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Winds of change

6 years ago


We have launched a new Woodwind syllabus. For use from January 2014, it features revised repertoire lists for all six subjects: Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Oboe, Bassoon and Recorder. ABRSM’s Syllabus Manager, Robert Sargant, provides an insight.


Woodwind teachers and students have some wonderful repertoire choices to look forward to in the new syllabuses.

Over many months our six teams of selectors have scoured the broadest possible range of publications in the search for exciting new exam material, while ensuring that a core of deserving favourites also appear.


FluteFor all instruments we have expanded the number of fresh, appealing pieces for younger players from a wider range of publications. So, in the forthcoming ABRSM Flute Exam Pieces for Grade 1 you’ll find a cool Brazilian bossa nova called Guanabara Bay in the style of Carlos Antonio Jobim and a playful march, Lupin, the Pot-Bellied Pig, both of which we expect to be popular choices with Grade 1 flautists.

Skipping ahead, in Grades 4 to 6 we’re featuring a very fine young Slovene composer called Blaz Pucihar, who writes exquisitely for the flute (slightly reminiscent of Poulenc) and who in the last year or two has been creating quite a stir in the world of flute teaching.

Also exciting about the syllabus are three newly-commissioned pieces specially written for our Grade 1 and Grade 3 Flute Exam Pieces books by the jazz composers and performers Nikki Iles, Dave Stapleton and David Gordon. Two other new commissions are featured in the Grade 2 book: a traditional folk-tune, Off She Goes, arranged by Alan Bullard and a catchy new piece written for us by Hywel Davies.

We’re also featuring two flautist-composers on the syllabus for the first time, both of whom have written prolifically and effectively for the instrument: the 19th-century French composer Eugène Walckiers, one of whose sonata movements appears in Grade 6 List A, and the contemporary American composer Gary Schocker, whose vibrant Dances and Daydreams is also set at this grade.


With the new Clarinet syllabus we’ve taken a similar approach, aiming for a fresh appeal at the lower grades in particular. As for Flute – and in fact for all instruments – we’ve made sure that good albums are used consistently through the grades.

Looking at our own books of Clarinet Exam Pieces there are some inviting choices. For example, in the Grade 3 album you can find Nature Boy in List B, while List A includes the Ascot Gavotte from My Fair Lady and Schubert’s ever popular Ave Maria. The Grade 5 album features some little known gems of the repertoire – Loewe’s Scottish Pictures in List A and an invigorating Circle Dance in List B from a Hebrew Suite by the wonderful Jewish-Canadian composer, Srul Irving Glick. Moving up the grades, the Grade 6 book features Milhaud’s charming Scaramouche for the first time, as well as the slow movement from the Clarinet Concerto by Leopold Kozeluh – Mozart’s Bohemian contemporary.


SaxophoneOnce again, teachers and students will find a wealth of new choices, drawing on some of the many saxophone albums brought out by publishers in recent years.

In the higher grades, a classic of the 20th-century repertoire makes a welcome return to the syllabus – Milhaud’s delightful Scaramouche suite, whose beautiful slow movement is one of the highlights of Grade 6, as it is in the Clarinet syllabus.

Other exciting French additions are Pierre Max Dubois’ À pas de loup in Grade 6 and a transcription of Saint-Saëns’ Oboe Sonata in Grades 6 and 7. One of the first composers to write extensively for saxophone was the Belgian-born Jean-Baptiste Singelée and we’ve included five of his delightful recital pieces for saxophone in Grades 7 and 8.

Finally, an exciting additional feature of the syllabus is the increase in the number of set pieces for B flat saxophones so that, for the first time, there is the same amount of choice for them as in the E flat lists.


The new Oboe syllabus features a plethora of wonderful pieces and albums – with the whole syllabus feeling fresh, relevant and inspiring. Again, we’ve deliberately used books to cross lists and grades frequently, providing an economic and sensible pathway for teachers and students. As well as several new books being issued by other publishers we have included plenty of pieces from our own Time Pieces books, several of which have not been on the syllabus before.

New to the repertoire lists is the Luxembourg composer Marco Pütz, who has a real gift for woodwind writing. We’ve set his imaginative Two Pictures on Grades 4 and 5: the expressive showcase The Dreamer followed by the wittily playful The Little Rascal.

Many of the great oboe works from the Baroque period appear on this syllabus, but a lesser known and very beautiful example is the Sonata in F by Gottfried August Homilius, a pupil of J. S. Bach; candidates can choose from all four of the sonata’s movements over Grades 5 and 6.

In the List Cs we hope that students will enjoy James Rae’s intriguing book of oboe studies, Track and Field. Set at Grades 2 to 7, each study is an ingenious miniature representation of an Olympic sport.


For Bassoon more than half of the pieces have changed since the last syllabus, with some excellent new albums from a variety of publishers enriching the choices at Grades 1 to 3. In the first five grades the syllabus also draws on pieces from ABRSM’s popular Time Pieces for Bassoon.

Moving on to the later grades, at Grade 8 we’re featuring a 20th-century French classic for the first time: the opening movement from Jean Françaix’s inventive and witty Divertissement. Otmar Nussio’s Variations on an Aria by Pergolesi is another popular concert hall work and selections from these variations are set for Grades 7 and 8.

An important bassoon work from the early Classical period appears on the syllabus at Grade 8, the Sonata in B flat by the Czech-born composer Reicha, a lifelong friend of Beethoven; the noble and expressive first movement is the set piece (its first time on the syllabus). Another of Beethoven’s contemporaries appears in the same list, Louis Spohr, whose Adagio in F showcases the lyrical possibilities of the bassoon.


RecorderWe’ve refreshed about half of the pieces in the repertoire lists for both Descant and Treble Recorder. As well as introducing many appealing newcomers, we’ve retained some of the most popular currently set choices, including those from ABRSM’s Time Pieces for Recorder books.

Some fine Baroque repertoire for recorder is explored in the List As, with a number of exciting new discoveries for the syllabus. The exhilarating Concerto di Camera by Telemann appears for the first time (at Grades 6 and 7) while at Grade 8 the second of Francesco Mancini’s appealing set of sonatas also makes its first appearance.

From the 20th century, a composer who writes very idiomatically for the recorder is Elizabeth Cooper and two of her animal- and bird-inspired collections appear in the Descant and Treble early grades, while her Advanced Studies set exciting challenges for treble players at Grades 6 to 8.

Above all, with these syllabus lists we hope to motivate and inspire students as they prepare for exams, discover new repertoire and take their music making to the next level.

Clarinet Exam PiecesThe new Woodwind syllabus is available at and as a printed booklet. Flute Exam Pieces and Clarinet Exam Pieces (books, CDs and audio downloads) are available to purchase from our shop and local retailers. Saxophone CDs together with audio downloads for Saxophone, Oboe and Bassoon will follow in November.

This article was originally featured in the May 2013 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.

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